We Have a Pope (streaming on Netflix, Amazon) When it comes to picking a new pope, the Vatican plays it pretty close to the chest. Rumor and speculation aside, no one really knows what happens except the cardinals. Since we have no evidence of what happens when they pick the pontiff, Palme d'Or-winning director Nanni Moretti fills the knowledge gap in the most Catholic way possible: through absurdity.
Michel Piccoli plays an obscure cardinal named Melville who, after many deadlocked ballots, is unexpectedly named pope. As he is being announced to the masses in Saint Peter's Square he is struck by the mother of all existential crises, and the anxiety-stricken Pope runs away from the Vatican, leaving the College of Cardinals and Catholic bureaucrats sequestered with the Pope's unwilling shrink (Moretti) as the pope traipses around Rome anonymously, trying to figure out what to do.
Moretti's intense focus on the absurdity of the situation is a grace stroke, making it specific without being an in-joke for Catholics-only. Piccolo is wonderful as the pope, but Gianluca Gobbi, as the Vatican guard who is charged with ruffling the pope's curtains every now and then so no one figures out what's going on, really steals the show. – Rob Boylan
For Ellen (streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime) Seeing the trailer for it, I thought it was somewhat surprising that For Ellen couldn't gain a real foothold once it came to market. It stars Paul Dano in an intense performance as an almost-famous musician named Joby who's returned home to sign divorce papers. His wife, Claire (Margarita Levieva), is about to get remarried and wants him out of her life. She wants him out of their daughter Ellen's life too, which is something he wasn't expecting. Joby goes to devious means to spend some time with Ellen in this almost one-man show.
Dano, who played a mute for much of Little Miss Sunshine, isn't everyone's cup of tea, though he puts in a strong performance here. It's an interesting portrait of an uninteresting man – a character we've seen many variations on in the past – made palatable by his surroundings. – RB